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The Luckiest Loser: Canada's Polansky can extend historic streak at U.S. Open


Peter Polansky showed his excitement after receiving a lucky loser entry into Wimbledon last month by tweeting a photo of the Joker, the villain from the Batman film "The Dark Knight."

The picture of Heath Ledger's character maniacally driving a police car — with his head out the window, eyes closed and hair whipping back in the wind — was accompanied by a caption that sums up Polansky's Grand Slam season perfectly: "You gotta beat me twice to make me leave."

Polansky's lucky loser spot at Wimbledon was his third of the year, making the Thornhill, Ont., native the first player in the Open Era to receive entries by that method into three consecutive majors in the same season.

With qualifying for the U.S. Open set to begin Tuesday, he could stretch that lucky loser streak into a calendar slam.

"I'd like to try getting in directly, just win the qualifiers and get in on my own this time," Polansky chuckled in a phone interview from New York. "But if I make the last round of qualies there's always that chance for a lucky loser.

"And I think it would also be super cool, actually, if I get in that way. It will be in the record books for a long time and I don't think anyone's going to beat that."

Lucky loser entries are awarded when high-ranked or wild-card players withdraw from a tournament, allowing players who lose their final qualifying matches to take their spots in the main draw before it starts.

The four top-ranked losers from qualifying are put into a random draw to determine who gets in, a process that ensures the highest-ranked qualifier doesn't blow his final match on purpose.

The method has made for some tense moments for Polansky this season, especially at Wimbledon when he was awarded his lucky loser later than expected after Pablo Andujar withdrew.

"At Wimbledon three guys had withdrawn before qualifying so we knew there were three going in, but I wasn't originally one of the three that were picked," Polansky said. "I didn't find out until the next day. So that was a little bit nerve-racking.

"I had a good feeling, but it's a position you don't really want to be in because you don't want to rely on luck."

Canada's top three men's players — No. 25 Milos Raonic, No. 28 Denis Shapovalov and No. 88 Vasek Pospisil — earned direct spots into the U.S. Open main draw, which begins next Monday at Flushing Meadows. Montreal teen Felix Auger-Aliassime (No. 116), will join Polansky in the qualifying tournament.   

Polansky, ranked No. 120, has had success on the lower level Challenger Tour this season, winning a tournament in Granby, Que., in July, but he has yet to claim a first-round victory at a Grand Slam this year.

He lost to Russia's Karen Khachanov (then No. 47) at the Australian Open before first-round defeats against No. 87 Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France at the French Open and No. 171 Dennis Novak of Austria at Wimbledon. 

"Wimbledon was probably the one that on paper it looked like I had the best opportunity, but I lost to a guy that was playing really good grass tennis so it was tough all three times," Polansky said. "It's a little bit disappointing getting in (as a lucky loser) and then losing because I think the chances of losing every time in the first round of a Grand Slam is pretty low.

"If you're playing well you're going to win some matches here and there. So that's been tough. But I'd say it's quite a feat on its own to consistently make last-round qualies."

Polansky, who turned pro in 2007, earned a career-high No. 110 ranking this year on June 25 — 10 days after his 30th birthday.

And after 11 years on the ATP Tour, he has no plans of slowing down any time soon.

"I know I'm not in my early 20s anymore and time is a bit of a factor now but I feel like I'm still progressing in the right direction," Polansky said. "I just really love the sport. I love competing. And more importantly I love the feeling of putting in a really good, hard day of training.

"Some guys tend to lose their motivation and I think that's been one of my strengths throughout my career, just doing the grind day in and day out and not missing any days — and I've always enjoyed that part of it."

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

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